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Leaders deserve fair judgement

By Magari Mandebvu

HEROES don’t last very long these days. That can be good and it can be bad.

The good side of it is that it makes

us less likely to trust anyone unconditionally. The hero won’t save us all on his own without asking for some reward.

If the reward for removing an unpopular president or is that the hero gets the presidency — hokoyo!

He may be very good for a while, but unquestioned power is bad for anybody — Robert Mugabe or Morgan Tsvangirai. We need, at least, to question our heroes — often.

As a wise man once said, “the price of liberty is constant vigilance”.

The bad side of this tendency is that, as soon as we discover that our hero has some fault, however small, in the media and in a lot of people’s estimation, he goes instantly from hero to zero. Or hero to villain. Or, if he is lucky, he only goes from hero to bumbling incompetent.

But hold on a moment. Is real life made up of only those extremes?

Is everybody either a hero or a zero? What if you treated your family like that? How long would your marriage last if your spouse had to be either perfect or useless?

I won’t ask how long your children would be allowed to stay in the house if you were to throw them out the first time they gave you problems.

If that was your attitude, you would have thrown your spouse out long before you could produce children capable of disobeying you.

Yes, we do have more ways of resolving problems with those close to us than we do with political leaders, but why should we expect all our politicians to be either angels or devils? They are human.

Like the rest of us, they have a bit of the angel and a bit of the devil in every one of them. That means that very few of them can ever be accurately be summed up in a newspaper headline or a radio “soundbite”.

And that means we must not rush to judge them until we are sure we have enough facts. It also means that we have to learn which imperfect politician is less dangerous than his or her rivals. After all, we know that any man who has been married for years and says his wife is perfect is a liar.

The same goes for any married woman’s judgement of her husband. Both have to learn to live with the less than perfect spouse they have. It doesn’t mean they would have been any happier married to somebody else.

Now, I am not arguing any political line, but I do want to offer a few questions that might make us all slow down when newspaper headlines seem to say that another hero has fallen to the depths. It might be less provocative if I start by talking about someone who is no longer with us. My questions are my own. You may have your well-considered answers, based on more facts than I have, on this one.

I have heard people, even during the struggle, question the late Herbert Ushewokunze’s dedication to the socialist ideals he preached.

Yes, we know he had big faults, but he tried harder than others I know to teach those ideals. As Minister of Health, he worked hard to create a system that served the people.

We know the stories about how, if he heard poor people were badly treated at some clinic, he himself went there, in an old suit and manyatera.

If he, looking like a poor villager, was treated badly, he returned the next day in his ministerial car and sacked the people responsible.

Now stop and ask yourself: don’t you know other people, maybe a man who seriously tries to follow the rules of his church but is likely to lapse from them seriously from time to time?

You might be careful not to let your daughter near a man like that, or not to offer him alcohol, but those who know him know he is trying to overcome his problem.

Was the late Ushewokunze that kind of socialist? As I said, you might be better able to answer that question than I am, but it seems worth asking.

Now to a more topical question. Because it is more topical, it will be more controversial, but I feel it must be asked before we all rush into hasty judgement. We heard of the rather sudden elevation of Therese Makone within the MDC, and then of her being dropped because she was a friend of Jocelyn Chiwenga.

Stop a moment and ask yourself: is my enemy’s friend always my enemy? Or is my friend’s friend always my friend? Makone and Chiwenga could have become friends because they were neighbours.

Must they break all contact because they now support different political parties? Must I refuse to talk to somebody because I disagree with their actions?

Would not a real friend of someone who has gone wrong, even very badly wrong, look for opportunities to advise and criticise, as a friend? Though I myself have broken with an old friend over differences: not because he joined the cabinet, not because he was sacked for corruption, but because he bounced back from that unrepentant. If he’s never listening, why talk to him?

On the other hand, if Makone behaved like Chiwenga, even if she wouldn’t know her from a bar of soap, that wouldn’t offer any hope that, given the chance, she would improve on the system we groan under now.

Anyone who behaves like that should be drummed out of any party that claims to have the people’s interests at heart.

So nobody is accusing Therese Makone of being that bad? I’m glad to hear it. But is there any strong reason to say she would be better heading the MDC women’s wing than Lucia Matibenga?

If there isn’t, there are a lot of other good posts where someone with her undeniable drive and energy could be very useful. That opens a lot more questions and don’t blame the press if you don’t get all the answers on a plate, or in one edition of even this paper.

The trouble is that fast modern communications lead to more demand for fast, immediate and spectacular news.

It is more difficult for anyone to publish real, in-depth analysis. But we do need it. We have to work harder to keep up that vigilance that is the price of freedom.

One closing question: why has Tsvangirai attracted so much criticism recently? Is he considered a failure because he hasn’t got into State House yet? He’s got nearer to it than anyone else in nearly 30 years — and before that he wasn’t ineffectual. Didn’t he significantly help that Zanu PF invention, the ZCTU, to become an independent labour movement?

That takes skill; has he lost all that skill? I am not suggesting answers to any of these questions, but they do seem to be questions that need to be answered.

If anybody out there has answers, I don’t suppose that I am the only one who would be glad of a little enlightenment.

Magari Mandebvu writes from Harare.

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